Balanced (Literacy) Approach / Mixture, Medley or Range of Word Reading Strategies / England’s National Literacy Strategy (NLS) Searchlights (Stannard / Huxford / Collins) / Multi-Cue Word-Guessing / The Three-Cueing System / Book-by-Book Approach using a levelled or banded predictable-text reading scheme, utilising rhyme, repetition and ‘supportive’ illustrations / ‘Psycholinguistic’, ‘Informed’, ‘Intelligent’, ‘Smart’ or ‘Careful’ Word Guessing or Predicting (Henrietta Dombey / Frank Smith / Colin Harrison / Andrew Davis / Marian Whitehead) / ”Multiple Sources of Information (MSV)” (Lucy Calkins) / ”Active Problem Solving in Reading” (Reading Recovery) / ”Domain-contingent Prompts” (The Reading Teacher journal) / Contextualised Word Reading (Wyse & Goswami) / Embedded Word Reading / Analytic Word Reading / Onset-Rime – Rhyming Analogy (Usha Goswami)
Reading instruction using a so-called balance of word reading strategies, begins with requiring children to memorise a bank of high frequency words (HFWs) by sight alone. In fact, some early years academics and educators believe that young children are biologically primed to see individual words solely ”…through their crude visual features such as shape or size” (Uta Frith) even if they receive some phonics instruction: ”Initially, whatever we try to teach them, young children recognise words as unanalysed wholes, making no attempt to map the component letters into speech sounds. [Frith] terms this the logographic phase” (italics added. Prof. Dombey. Literacy Today 20). Research in Germany (Wimmer/ Hummer) has shown that children do not go through a ‘logographic phase’ when they are taught to decode words using phonics only, from the very start of reading instruction (RRF 45. p6/ D.McGuinness ERI p339-347)
”The belief in sight-words as a first step is found everywhere” but ”Teachers must not be brainwashed into believing that logographic reading is natural if in fact it is the result of teaching, as the evidence suggests to be the case.”
The balanced approach follows what many early years academics and teachers believe is a biologically-dictated developmental progression; that as they move up through the early primary years, children ‘naturally’ develop the ability to perceive smaller and smaller units of sound (whole words -> syllables ->onset-rimes-> phonemes) so the teaching of reading needs to follow this order too. Despite a lack of empirical evidence, many early years educationalists strongly suggest that deviating from this supposed developmental pathway, or anything but child-initiated, intrinsic learning, will damage children’s ‘naturally’ emerging phonemic awareness and spoil their love of reading. Explicitly teaching synthetic phonics (which goes directly to phonemes and graphemes) to children under the age of seven is, they warn darkly, likely to be, ”Too much, too soon” (Open EYE conference 16/02/08) and, ”a recipe for disaster” (Whitehead 2009 p76).
”Professor Margaret M Clark is a contemporary campaigner against synthetic phonics. Like Isaacs, she argues that “decoding at the level of the grapheme and phoneme develops later than recognition of larger segments of print.”
(J. Grenier. TES 2020)
”Glazzard (2017) argued that many younger children were not able to deal with the smallest unit of sound, the phoneme, but must begin with larger units and recommended onset and rimes maintaining that reading instruction was not a ‘one size fits all’ (2017:53) model.”
(Timothy Mills p88)
”A commonly adopted view about phonological awareness development has been that young children progress from awareness of syllables, to awareness of the onsets and rimes within syllables, and that children subsequently achieve awareness of the individual phonemes (e.g., Goswami & Bryant, 1990; Treiman & Zukowski, 1991).”
(Prof. Susan Brady. 2020)
‘Teaching Beginners to Decode Consonant–Vowel Syllables Using Grapheme–Phoneme Subunits Facilitates Reading and Spelling as Compared With Teaching Whole-Syllable Decoding’
“Results support theories that reading instruction is most effective when it begins by teaching students to decode with small grapheme–phoneme units rather than with larger syllabic units”
”It seems that even in a more transparent language (Portuguese), G-P instruction with blending is more effective than teaching whole syllables. Children don’t infer G-P connections when taught syllable chunks.”
(Prof. Cartwright. Twitter 28/6/21)
”It is clear that the phoneme is a more natural unit of speech than a rhyme. These results contradict The Dogma that phonological awareness develops from larger to smaller phonetic units.”
(D. McGuinness LDLR, p118)
2020. Prof. Pamela Snow: Balanced Literacy or Systematic Reading Instruction?
England’s National Literacy Strategy (NLS) and Analytic Word Reading:
Reading instruction in the National Literacy Strategy (NLS.1998 ->2006) was based on multi-cue word-guessing strategies called ‘Searchlights’. NLS directors John Stannard and Laura Huxford suggested that ”More extreme recommendations from phonics evangelists to teach children not to use other reading strategies alongside phonics, should be treated with great caution” (Stannard & Huxford p189).
Sir Kevan Collins was deputy national director of the NLS, having been a Reading Recovery tutor earlier in his career (TES. 09/19). When giving evidence to the Education & Skills Committee in 2004, Collins was asked who designed the Searchlights model. He responded that the Searchlights model was ”something that three or four of [them] did…drawn from the work of [Reading Recovery author] Marie Clay” (Teaching Children to Read. Ev49. Q196) ”The human mind is not a bucket waiting to be filled with facts…The mind is better likened to a searchlight that is constantly expecting, guessing, predicting…” (Stannard & Huxford p25)
When the NLS ended in 2006, Laura Huxford went on to co-author the DfE’s synthetic phonics programme ‘Letters and Sounds’ (withdrawn in 2021). Sir Kevan Collins went on to lead the Education Endowment Foundation until 2019.
In their Civitas paper Ready to Read, Anastasia de Waal and Nicholas Cowen wrote: ”(I)n order to accommodate the more established academic orthodoxy (i.e. child centred rather than anything resembling didactic or mechanistic teaching), a medley of reading strategies was included in Searchlights. This attempt to keep everyone happy, while also attempting to address reading standards, led to a rather chaotic model which would frequently prove ineffective. Searchlights encouraged children to learn to read using four distinctive methods simultaneously” (p10)
”The NLS Searchlight was a political compromise to get whole language supporters on board when the original framework was drawn up. It seems so reasonable on the surface, a bit of [analytic] phonics, a bit of look and say, a bit of whole word guessing, who could argue with that? Well, if you go on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll go on getting what you’ve always got, in this case 25 to 30 per cent of the children in your school unable to read properly. The long tail of underachievement in England is recognised in international studies. It was there before the NLS. The NLS was supposed to get rid of it. It’s still there, complete with gender gap and underachieving boys spawning a whole new cottage industry for advisors and publishers. In synthetic phonics schools there is no long tail of underachievement. There is no gender gap. Boys do not underachieve. Same kids — different teaching methodology.”
”As analytic phonics as well as synthetic phonics can involve sounding and blending, how can these two methods be distinguished? According to the National Reading Panel (2000, 2-89), in analytic phonics children analyse letter sounds after the word has been identified, whereas in synthetic phonics the pronunciation of the word is discovered through sounding and blending. Another critical difference is that synthetic phonics teaches children to sound and blend right at the start of reading tuition, after the first few letter sounds have been taught. In analytic phonics children learn words at first largely by sight, having their attention drawn only to the initial letter sounds. Only after all of the letter sounds have been taught in this way is sounding and blending introduced. It can be seen therefore that the phonics approach advocated in the National Literacy Strategy is of the analytic type”
(italics added. Johnston & Watson. Accelerating Reading and Spelling with Synthetic Phonics)
”(I)t is not clear that alternatives to synthetic phonics meet the criteria for systematic and explicit teaching. These are the critical characteristics that are overwhelmingly supported in scientific research and expert reviews.”
(2019. J. Buckingham, R. Wheldall and K. Wheldall)
A report by Professor Tymms, Coe and Merrell, at the University of Durham’s CEM Centre, looked at the attainments of pupils in England between 1995 and 2004. In 1995, in the Key Stage 2 SATs, only 48% of pupils achieved Level 4 or above in reading. According to official figures, this shockingly low level of attainment rose to 75% by 2000 but the Massey Report called the reading score rise “illusory” with the real score being just 58%. In 2004, 6 years after the introduction of the NLS with its ‘medley of word reading strategies’, only 60% of children achieved Level 4 or above in Reading, in the Key Stage 2 SATs.
Tymms & Merrell (2007) Standards and Quality in English Primary Schools Over Time: the national evidence.
”£500m was spent on the National Literacy Strategy with almost no impact on reading levels”
Tymms. 2004. Are standards rising in English primary schools?
A high profile synthesis of data showing how official statistics had exaggerated the rise in literacy and numeracy in England 1995-2000. The Statistics Commission confirmed the main findings.
1999. ‘The End of Illiteracy?’ by Tom Burkard:
– A comparison of analytic and synthetic phonics
– Problems with the National Literacy Strategy
2004. Diane McGuinness: A Response to ‘Teaching Phonics in the National Literacy Strategy’
All phonics instruction is not the same: Analytic phonics, ‘’developed out of the inherent flaws of whole word…’’
Phonics Teaching in England after 2006:
In 2006, all of the Rose review’s recommendations, including that the NLS ‘Searchlights’ multi-cue word-guessing strategies should be dropped and replaced by a programme of high quality phonics work (where phonics is used as the sole decoding mechanism), were accepted by the government.
”Almost certainly the biggest issue of all in many schools around the country is that, although good practice and the new NC require that phonics is taught as ‘the route to decoding print’, this is not yet happening. Many (I would say most) schools that are teaching a discrete phonics session, even those teaching it very well, continue to encourage multi-cueing when children are practising their reading or applying it at other times in the school day. This means that the benefits of phonics teaching are seriously diluted and even countered. Phonics does not become the habituated prime strategy and dependence on alternative, unreliable strategies is perpetuated. This will never raise standards in the way that true systematic synthetic phonics teaching indubitably can. To evaluate phonics on the basis of such bad practice is a nonsense. It is like evaluating vegetarianism on the basis of a sample who eat a vegetarian breakfast but then eat a diet including meat for the rest of the day”
”A programme should promote the use of phonics as the route to reading unknown words, before any subsequent comprehension strategies are applied.”
Balkanism: teaching decoding separate from reading comprehension
”In the morning kids come in and work on the grapheme-phoneme correspondence of the day, practise encoding using the graphemes they have been working on and read decodable texts. Then, later in the day, they head off to the “Reading Program” where they use “authentic” texts and multi-cueing strategies. In the “reading” session students aren’t expected to use any of the decoding strategies they learnt in the morning session to makes sense of the text they are reading.”
”Yes, teaching phonics discretely is important. But you may as well not bother if you don’t make it explicit to the child that they need to apply these skills in their ‘other’ reading and writing” (‘Shinpad’) – and provide suitable decodable books to enable them to do so.
Evidence that the majority (90%) of teachers were still using a mixture of guessing strategies for word reading came in NFER’s 2013 survey of 583 literacy coordinators: ”However, 90 per cent also ‘agreed’ or ‘agreed somewhat’ with the statement that a variety of different methods should be used to teach children to decode words. These percentages mirror almost exactly last year’s findings, and indicate that most teachers do not see a commitment to systematic synthetic phonics as incompatible with the teaching of other decoding strategies”
Beginning readers, and those who are slower to learn to read using phonics, should not be encouraged at any time, either in or outside of the discrete phonics lesson, to use different strategies for decoding words, such as guessing from the picture or context in the belief that some children need different reading strategies. This is because these strategies lead to inaccurate reading and fail when pupils are faced with unknown words in texts with few context clues. It is true that some pupils are able to absorb phonics by osmosis using these strategies, but pupils who find phonics difficult cannot do this and are unlikely to use phonics if other strategies are encouraged. On the other hand, pupils should be encouraged to use picture and context clues to understand what they have already read.
Many educational academics and teachers still believe that English word reading must involve using larger units of sounds and letters such as whole words and onsets – rimes, not just phonemes and graphemes, along with the use of ”careful guessing from context” (Prof. Dombey. Guardian Comment 30/04/08): “Decoding must be seen to denote the identification of words typical of English texts, including irregular words such as ‘said’ and ‘island’. It should not be equated with synthetic phonics, which is inadequate as a decoding system for English. So it should be taken to involve ‘flexible unit size strategies’, and also morphology and semantics” (Prof. Dombey. p9)
”(T)hose who have an opposing view [to synthetic phonics] have yet to produce any data showing that their favoured approach produces greater long-term benefits”
(italics added. Prof. Rhona Johnston)
Balanced Literacy: An instructional bricolage that is neither fish nor fowl
”There is actually a name for this type of phonics teaching, “Embedded Phonics”. Sadly the scientific research shows it’s not very effective. See, for example, this 2006 large-scale controlled study, which compared children explicitly taught about spelling using phonics and children taught about phonics in the context of literature, and found “At the end of 5th grade, spelling-context children had significantly higher comprehension than did literature-context children.”
Dr. Kerry Hempenstall’s paper on using multi-cueing for decoding.
‘The three-cueing system: Trojan horse?’
Multi-cueing: teaching the habits of poor readers.
Leading whole language advocates, Henrietta Dombey and Frank Smith, are happy to recommend guessing as a word reading strategy; ”Every child also needs a third key, careful guessing from context.” (H. Dombey) Reading without guessing is not reading at all.” (F. Smith. Psychology and Reading) It’s notable that many whole language enthusiasts prefer to use a euphemism, ‘predicting’: ”(I)s it ‘Mam’ or ‘Mummy’, a ‘horse’ or a ‘house’? This highly skilled predicting can be more highly tuned and corrected in retrospect if the reader is given the opportunity to go back and self-correct” (italics added. Whitehead. 2010. p160)
”Teaching students to use meaning to figure out what a word is, is guessing. Telling them to look at the picture to figure out a word is guessing.”
(Prof. Timothy Shanahan)
”Children are prone to guessing because it’s quicker and easier than the hard work of decoding…Children need no encouragement to guess. If they are encouraged, they absolutely will, but they will do so at the expense of fostering the reading habits of genuinely skilled readers, and they may never fully master or apply the alphabetic code.”
”It is ethically unacceptable to pursue teaching methods that may cause anxiety and stress” said phonics sceptic Marian Whitehead (Whitehead. 2010 p.141). Here is an actual example of the word guessing rigmarole that a child taught to use a range of word reading strategies is expected to follow on encountering any word they don’t immediately recognise: ”If a child met the word ‘nightingale’ he would use a combination of initial sound (n), segmentation (night-ing-(g)ale), letter clusters (ight, ing), sight vocabulary (gale) and context (it’s a bird)’’ (Fisher. Practical answers to teachers’ questions about reading. UKLA p8)
A better method of inducing anxiety and stress in a beginning reader is difficult to imagine.
Multi-cueing advocate Yvonne Siu-Runyan provides the following example of how she thinks a child ‘reads’ an unknown word: “A child encounters the word ‘butterflies’ in a story,” said Siu-Runyan. “The first time he reads it as ‘b-flies.’ Maybe the next time he reads it as ‘butt-flies’ and the next time as ‘betterflies.’ For me to assume he’s not going to get it would be a mistake, because finally he’ll say to himself, ‘Does this make sense?’ He’ll look at the pictures of butterflies [in the book] and say to himself, ‘Oh, this is a story about butterflies!’ And he’ll get it right after that. It’s a lot more complicated a process than handing a child a list of words.” (Charlotte Allen)
Some teachers believe that beginning readers should be encouraged to try out a variety of word reading strategies because ”All children are different” (have different learning styles) often phrased as ”One size doesn’t fit all”, as this will enable them to find their own ”preferred approach” to reading words. Prof. Pamela Snow’s response is, ”This is one of those simplistic truisms that got into the education water and is now difficult to remove. If there’s 7 billion people on this planet, there are not 7 billion different learning needs. Teaching would be impossible if that was the case” (http://pamelasnow.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/whos-in-your-reading-instruction-family.html).
In his 2006 Review, Sir Jim Rose also responded to this very widely held view saying, ”(A)ll beginning readers have to come to terms with the same alphabetic principles if they are to learn to read and write… Moreover, leading edge practice (in synthetic phonics) bears no resemblance to a ‘one size fits all’ model of teaching and learning, nor does it promote boringly dull, rote learning of phonics.” (Rose review 2006 para.34)
”Rescind the idea that all children are different. The idea that each of us has a distinct learning style is a myth. Brain imaging shows that we all rely on very similar brain circuits and learning rules.”
(Prof. Dehaene. How We Learn)
”Excluding students identified as “visual/kinesthetic” learners from effective phonics instruction is a bad instructional practice—bad because it is not only not research based, it is actually contradicted by research”
Guessing: why it is not an effective ‘reading strategy’
Onset and Rime / Rhyming-Analogy Word Reading:
Advocates of the ‘balanced approach’ to word reading, often protest that they aren’t anti-phonics, with most adding that they ”have always used phonics to teach reading.” They usually mean ‘last resort phonics’ as one of the Searchlight cues, but they may also be referring to onset and rime units.
Onset and rime word reading is taught using whole words that the children have previously memorised by sight: first, the word’s onset is separated out (beginning consonant letters are taught as one unit even if they represent individual sounds) and then the rest of the word is analysed to find its rhyming family (for example, the ‘ing’ family – s/ing, br/ing, str/ing, th/ing…). After much practice in orally breaking previously memorised whole words into onset and rime units, it is assumed that children will then be able to use this strategy with previously unseen words: ”Recognising word families and patterns helps children develop inferential self-teaching strategies. If they can read ‘cake’, they can work out and read ‘lake’ without blending all the individual phonemes” (Lewis & S.Ellis p4)
”As it is widely assumed that children need to be aware of phonemes before they can benefit from a [synthetic] phonics approach, a ‘new’ phonics or ‘rhyming analogy’ approach has been recommended as an easier route than [synthetic] phonics for English beginning readers. This paper argues, however, that English beginners are just as capable of a phonemic approach as beginners in other languages, that phonemic awareness is not a precondition, that beliefs to the contrary are based on misunderstanding, and that systematically applying grapheme-phoneme correspondences throughout each word is an excellent basis for word-identification even in English”
Goswami’s onset-rime theory is discussed in this thread.
Diane McGuinness critiques Goswami’s dyslexia and rhyme theories.
”Goswami persists in holding to her theory that “rhyme” is as important as phonemes in learning to master an alphabetic writing system. She even claims that rhyme is relevant to our spelling system: “spelling-sound consistencies occur at two levels, rhyme and phoneme.” The notion that the rhyme (word endings that sound alike) is relevant to learning an alphabetic writing system (which is entirely based on phonemes) has been largely discredited. When the National Reading Panel in the US published their landmark survey of reading research in 2000, results showed that rhyme-based teaching methods were singularly ineffective either alone or combined with something else”
”(T)eaching children about onset and rime as a route to discovering individual phonemes is similar logic to thinking that a person can be taught to read music by memorising chords on, say a guitar or piano. Although it may be relatively easy for a person to learn the names of some musical chords and how to play them, there is little possibility that this knowledge will lead to the ability to read musical notation, to the ability to play individual notes on these instruments in response to the corresponding written symbols”
(B. Macmillan p82).
Recent studies, ”have shown conclusively that children do not use rhyming endings to decode words; hardly ever decode by analogy to other words, and that ability to dissect words into onsets and rimes has no impact whatsoever on learning to read and spell.”
(D. McGuinness WCCR p148)
Bonnie Macmillan: Rhyme and reading: A critical review of the research methodology
”There is debate over whether children’s early rhyme awareness has important implications for beginning reading instruction. The apparent finding that pre-readers are able to perform rhyme tasks much more readily than phoneme tasks has led some to propose that teaching children to read by drawing attention to rime units within words is ‘a route into phonemes’ (Goswami, 1999a, p. 233). Rhyme and analogy have been adopted as an integral part of the National Literacy Strategy (DfEE, 1998), a move which appears to have been influenced by three major research claims: 1) rhyme awareness is related to reading ability, 2) rhyme awareness affects reading achievement, and 3) rhyme awareness leads to the development of phoneme awareness. A critical examination of the experimental research evidence from a methodological viewpoint, however, shows that not one of the three claims is sufficiently supported. Instructional implications are discussed.”
Open access pdf: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227715334_Rhyme_and_Reading_A_Critical_Review_of_the_Research_Methodology
”The focus should be on phonemes, and not on ‘consonant clusters’ (/s/+/p/+/l/ not /spl/) or ‘onset and rime’ (/c/+/a/+/t/ not c-at, m-at, b-at)”
(2021. DfE phonics programmes essential core criteria )
High Frequency Words (HFWs) / ‘Sight Words’ / Whole Word Memorisation:
Some education academics believe that beginning readers in English-speaking countries need to memorise ”100 or so” high frequency words by sight alone because of the opaqueness of the English spelling system: ”In Scottish schools there is a preference for a mixed method which combines the teaching of a vocabulary of sight words with the teaching of the letters and decoding procedures. These methods are well adapted for deep orthographies in which commonly occurring words contain letter structures which are inconsistent with the principles of simple grapheme–phoneme correspondence” (Seymour/Aro/Erskine) Phonics sceptics Wyse and Goswami endorse this belief: ”The phonological complexity of syllable structures in English, coupled with the inconsistent spelling system, mean that direct instruction at levels other than the phoneme may be required in order to become an effective reader” (Italics added. Wyse & Goswami p.693).
”It should not include lists of high frequency words or any other words for children to learn as whole shapes ‘by sight’’ (2021. DfE phonics programmes essential core criteria )
Asking children to memorise scores of high frequency words (e.g. Dolch/Fry words) visually, without phonics decoding, is a harmful practice and why no high quality phonics programme expects children to learn words as logographs. Firstly, because words viewed as whole units form abstract visual patterns which humans find difficult to memorise in large numbers; examination of different writing systems reveals that the memory limit for whole words is around 2,000-2,500, since no true writing system, past or present, has expected users to memorise more than this number of abstract symbols. When children reach their visual memory limits they will struggle to read texts containing more unusual words if they haven’t, in the meantime, been taught or deduced the alphabet code for themselves. Secondly, for most children, memorising words visually seems easy at first and, if the practice is encouraged, it will become their main strategy (along with word guessing), subverting their phonological abilities and setting up a habit or reflex in the brain which can be hard to shift.
”If children receive contradictory or conflicting instruction, most children prefer to adopt a ‘sight word’ (whole word) strategy. This seems ‘natural’, it is easy to do initially, and has some immediate success, that is until visual memory starts to overload…becoming a whole-word (sight-word) reader is not due to low verbal skills**, but is a high risk factor in the general population, and something that teachers should curtail at all costs.”
(emphasis in original. D. McGuinness. RRF 51 p19)
**Decoding strategies as predictors of reading skill: A follow-on study
”Children who stayed with the most inefficient [decoding] strategies had significantly higher vocabulary scores and equivalent phonemic processing ability when compared to readers with more efficient decoding strategies.”
Teach 100 first spellings, not 100 first words.
What should parents do when the school sends home lists of HFWs for their child to learn?
How to respond to the ”But some words can’t be sounded-out” objection to phonics
Levelled / Banded / Patterned / Predictable / Authentic Text:
The word reading strategy taught first, either multi-cue word-guessing or decoding using phonics alone (high quality phonics), forms a habit or brain conditioning that impedes the future use of the other method. This is the reason why it is more difficult to remediate difficulties in readers who have received faulty reading instruction for even a short period of time. With this in mind, parents should insist that their child’s school provides phonics programme-linked decodable books for home reading practice. Parents should also ignore any advice that recommends word memorising or guessing, even if provided by the school.
Following are a couple of actual examples of misleading advice for parents:
– ”If they get stuck, encourage them to use all the available information and everything they know to make a guess. They should look at the pictures and remember what has happened in the story. Their ability to predict and guess accurately will gradually improve.”
– ‘’Say, “Close your eyes. Now look again.” Have him close his eyes, open them, and see if his brain can just “get” the word as a sight word, without trying to sound it out”
‘’The selection of text used very early in first grade may, at least in part, determine the strategies and cues children learn to use, and persist in using, in subsequent word identification…In particular, emphasis on a phonics method seems to make little sense if children are given initial texts to read where the words do not follow regular letter-sound correspondence generalizations. Results of the current study suggest that the types of words which appear in beginning reading texts may well exert a more powerful influence in shaping children’s word identification strategies than the method of reading instruction’’
(Juel & Roper, Schneider. Reading Research Quarterly 18)
”Students tend to perceive words in the way they are taught to perceive them. This appears to be the case whether or not they are taught in a transparent orthography (Cardoso-Martins 2001)”
(Rice & Brooks p34)
Cardoso-Martins, C. (2001). The reading abilities of beginning readers of Brazilian Portuguese: Implications for a theory of reading acquisition
In a paper presented at the 2003 DfES ‘phonics’ seminar, Ehri wrote “…when phonics instruction is introduced after students have already acquired some reading skill, it may be more difficult to step in and influence how they read, because it requires changing students’ habits. For example, to improve their accuracy, students may need to suppress the habit of guessing words based on context and minimal letter clues, to slow down, and to examine spellings of words more fully when they read them. Findings suggest that using phonics instruction to remediate reading problems may be harder than using phonics at the earliest point to prevent reading difficulties” (www.rrf.org.uk/51%20In%20Denial.htm)
Retired English teacher Jenny Chew helps with one-to-one reading at her local primary school. She says, ”The trouble is that ‘sound it out’ often doesn’t work, given the mismatch between the books Reading Recovery children are given to read and the state of their phonic knowledge. I’ve helped voluntarily in an infant school which doesn’t have RR but uses Book Bands, and weak Y1 readers have often been issued with books full of words that they can’t possibly read. I’ve always taken along my own stock of decodable books, and I get the children to try these once I’ve dutifully helped them through their non-decodables. At first they tend to resort to their usual strategies, but when they realise that these are books where sounding out really works, they often get the bit between their teeth. It’s not all plain sailing, however – I can move them on to the next level of decodables when I see them the following week, but in the meantime they will have been issued with several more non-decodables which will have made them revert to their non-decoding mindset”.
”People should judge a school on reading by how the weakest readers read, not how the most able read”
(Nick Gibb. Minister for School Standards)
As only the most transparent GPCs are directly taught in a ‘balanced word reading approach’ and levelled predictable books or ‘real’ books are used from the very start, sounding out GPC by GPC all-through-the-written-word, one of the central tenets of synthetic phonics teaching with beginning readers, will fail as a strategy and is therefore discouraged; ”Sounding out a word is a cumbersome, time-consuming, and unnecessary activity. By using context, we can identify words with only minimal attention to grapho/phonemic cues.” (Weaver. Reading process & practice: From socio-psycholinguistics to whole language) ”Many ways of teaching reading rely on children learning to ‘sound out’ words they don’t know, but in Reading Recovery we are sceptical of the usefulness of this approach.” (Running Record. Dec. ’04 p8)
Video: Alison Clarke illustrates why predictable or repetitive texts are harmful for beginning readers.
What are decodable texts and why are they important?
Why Book Bands and Levelled Reading Books Should Be Abandoned
Phonics and Book Bands.
Marian Whitehead says that ”(I)t was in order to subvert instructional material like [”read simple words by sounding out and blending the phonemes all through the word”] that Dr. Seuss introduced ‘The Cat in the Hat’ to the English-speaking world” (Whitehead. 2009. p125) Whitehead is mistaken. As a matter of fact, the children’s author Dr. Seuss created his famous books using what he described as ”a controlled “scientific” vocabulary” (high frequency sight words supplied by the publisher), but he was well aware of how useless the look-say method was to teach children how to read. In an interview he gave in 1981, Seuss said, ”I did it for a textbook house and they sent me a word list. That was due to the Dewey revolt in the twenties, in which they threw out phonics reading and went to word recognition as if you’re reading a Chinese pictograph instead of blending sounds or different letters. I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of illiteracy in the country. Anyway, they had it all worked out that a healthy child at the age of four can only learn so many words in a week. So there were two hundred and twenty-three words to use in this book. I read the list three times and I almost went out of my head. I said, “I’ll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, that’ll be the title of my book.” I found “cat” and “hat” and said, the title of my book will be The Cat in the Hat” (Gatto p72-3)
Predictable Books: Purpose-written for Guessing:
“We undermine phonics instruction when we hand children predictable books because the texts are purpose-written to show children that predicting words is a viable alternative to sounding them out.”
Attention during learning: Reading Recovery (and its derivatives) and high quality phonics teaching are mutually incompatible:
”(T)he two different ways of teaching direct children’s attention differently, and evoke different strategies”